What’s at the Farmers Market?

The USDA maintains a list of U.S. farmers markets including food and products that are available at each market. We’re always wondering which items are most popular at the market so we thought we’d take a look at the data. (Jump to the graph if you want to read about the data later.)

First, we need to take a look at the categories the USDA presents in their questionnaire when someone adds or updates a farmers market entry. The first item is the key in the list we downloaded matched up (by us making an educated guess) with the description in the questionnaire.

  • Bakedgoods – Baked goods: breads, pies, etc.
  • Beans – Dry beans
  • Cheese – Dairy products: milk, cheese, etc.
  • Coffee – Coffee and/or tea
  • Crafts – Crafts and/or woodworking items
  • Eggs – Eggs
  • Flowers – Cut flowers
  • Fruits – Fresh fruits
  • Grains – Grains and/or flour
  • Herbs – Fresh and/or dried herbs
  • Honey – Honey
  • Jams – Canned or preserved fruits/ vegetables: jams, jellies, preserves, salsas, pickles, dried fruit, etc.
  • Juices – Juices and/or non-alcoholic ciders
  • Maple – Maple syrup and/or maple products
  • Meat – Red and other non-poultry meat and products
  • Mushrooms – Mushrooms
  • Nuts – Nuts
  • Organic – Separate question (more below)
  • PetFood – Pet food
  • Plants – Bedding plants
  • Poultry – Poultry/fowl meat and products
  • Prepared – Prepared foods (for immediate consumption)
  • Seafood – Fish and/or seafood
  • Soap – Soap and/or body care products
  • Tofu – Tofu and/or non-animal protein
  • Trees (Nursery?) – Nursery stock (trees, shrubs)
  • Vegetables – Fresh vegetables
  • WildHarvested – Wild harvested forest products: mushrooms, medicinal herbs, edible fruits and nuts, etc.
  • Wine – Wine, spirits, beer, hard cider

There were a few things that we noticed between the exported data and the questionnaire:

  1. Some categories cross each other such as Mushrooms, WildHarvested (Wild harvested forest products: mushrooms, medicinal herbs, edible fruits and nuts, etc.), Herbs, and Nuts.
  2. Organic is listed as a separate question on a separate page reading “Will any of the producers/vendors at this market location in 2015 be USDA-­certified organic producers?” Organic must have been added at a later date because 5,216 of the 8,429 markets listed had no answer. The percentage in the graph is based on the 3,213 answers that existed.
  3. In the export, there are separate entries for Nursery and Trees but only a single item exists on the current questionnaire: “Nursery stock (trees, shrubs)”.
  4. There is an option for “Other, please specify” on the questionnaire that provides a text box but we’re not sure what happens with that information.
  5. Some of these markets haven’t been updated in years. Over 1,800 market entries are listed as last updated in 2009.

Percentage of 8,429 farmers markets that said they had these items at their market.
Click on the graph for a larger version

What's at the market?

Honestly, we were hoping for some interesting insights when we started looking at this data but we mostly came up with additional questions:

  • Are there really that many certified organic vendors at farmers markets? If so, that’s a great trend but we’ve heard of many vendors holding off due to the expense of certification.
  • Do only 58% of the markets out there have fresh vegetables? We’re pretty sure every market we’ve been to has vegetables. Isn’t that how farmers markets started?
  • Pet food at 56%? Does that mean pets can eat the food or it’s specifically made for pets?
  • Tofu and/or non-animal protein? Does that mean beans and other vegetable proteins? We’ve only seen tofu and seitan at a few markets.

Our anecdotal guess, from visiting farmers markets across the country, is that Baked Goods and below (minus Tofu) seem pretty accurate. The top items seem a bit off but maybe we haven’t been to a good enough sampling of markets?

One thing is for sure. Figuring out exactly what’s available at over 8,000 farmers markets is difficult.

Is Your Booth Worth 1,000 Words?

Studies regarding first impression indicate that it takes anywhere from seven seconds to mere tenths of a second for people to make a conclusion about what they’re seeing. For vendors, this means that the way they present their product is incredibly important. Is it eye catching? Is it enticing? Whether a market manager or a vendor, understanding what makes a product booth attractive is critical to success. (Read: pretty booths with great product make more money!)

radical_root

Signage: Consumers aren’t created the same and some of them are far less apt to ask questions than others. This means that you need to level the playing field by giving all of your consumers easy access to all of the relevant information they’ll need to make a purchasing decision. What is the item? What’s the price? Is it all-natural? Organic? Are all ingredient’s locally sourced? Keep your signage simple, consistent and easy-to-read. When in doubt, just perform a random poll and ask your foot traffic what they think!

Decor: While string lights and streamers might be a little much, giving a few thoughts to non-produce booth decor shouldn’t be out of the question. Simple additions like tablecloths, attractive product containers and display racks can go a long way in making your delicious produce look that much more appetizing. Consider, too, offering more substantial producer information, like the history of your farm or opportunities to come visit, with a brochure or small poster display. Always remember, people love a good story!

Levels & Depth: Walk into any store and you’ll quickly notice that their displays aren’t created on one plain. Rather, they use different levels and depths to create a more interactive space. So instead of placing everything flat on tables, consider using crates or boxes to make multiple layers. Maybe your produce offering allows you to use large buckets at ground level and, if you have a covering, hanging baskets for height. A good rule of thumb is to progress from low to high displays the deeper you go.

Remember though that a good looking booth will only take the consumer so far in the purchasing decision. In order for your marketing efforts to pay off in real dollars, the product being sold needs to live up to the booth’s beautification! In other words, to acquire repeat customers, don’t just put lipstick on a pig.

Is Your Farmers’ Market Socially Awesome or Socially Awkward?

Farmers’ markets have so much to talk about with their audience, but market managers can easily get overwhelmed in the digital world. With limited time and funds, you don’t have the luxury of trial and error – so how do you make the most of your online efforts? Read on!

social_media_illustration

Don’t Go Overboard on Channels: It can be very easy to get wrapped up in the false need to use every social media channel out there – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, flickr, and so on. The options are practically endless and can quickly become overwhelming. So, rather than trying to spread your message everywhere, concentrate your efforts through two platforms.

Be Consistent: The best way to build your digital audience is to post information on a regular basis so that you stay front of mind. Remember that people have a lot of information to get through, but if they can look to you for reliable, quality information, you’ll become their go-to resource instead of just a passive advertiser.

Be Authentic: Give your connections photos and information of real, relevant value. In some cases, the value is merely a reason to smile (a funny cartoon about organic food or a poster graphic about loving farmers). In other situations, the value is new, helpful information that they can apply to their lives (a seasonal recipe or a new study about the health benefits of eating fresh food). At minimum, you should be posting three times a week.

Foregoing an online presence in today’s world isn’t an option – but it also isn’t the mountainous barrier it’s frequently made out to be. With Farmstand’s new tools, managers can simplify their life by using one platform that crowdsources from their community and populates all of that great content directly to Facebook, Twitter and the market’s very own website! Interested in streamlining your efforts? Get in touch today!

Grape Stompin’ Goodness: What Do You Know About Your Wines?

crazy_logoWhen it comes to American wines, New York is second only to Napa Valley…and, as some would argue, even that is subjective. So we took the discussion of sustainable wine up North to the famed Finger Lakes Region with assistant wine maker (or “vintner-in-training”) Alexandra Doniger of one of the regions newest wineries, Hector Wine Company.

One of more than 200 wineries in the area, Hector Wine Co. makes an assortment of dry red and whites from grapes grown right next door. A family-owned business, Jason and Justin Boyette, along with a small team including Ms. Doniger, take exceptional pride in what they produce and oversee every single aspect of production. Ms. Doniger was kind enough to give us the rundown on their production practices and how their wines fit into the conscious eater’s life.

FS: While many wineries outsource some aspect of their wine-making process, you guys keep it totally local, totally in-house. Why?

AD: Yes, everything is done on-site, from press to bottle. Our grapes are hand picked in the vineyard and then hand sorted, and we use minimal intervention in the cellar. Throughout the entire process, we let our wines do the talking and we just interpret.

We think it makes a good wine. We don’t want to make mediocre wine and we think best is something that is handled by us from start to finish.

FS: What are some of the methods you use to ensure that your wines are part of a sustainable food system?

AD: We don’t bring grapes in from any other region, so everything is from the Finger Lakes. The vineyards that we do have – Sawmill Creek Vineyards – adhere to the New York Guide to Sustainable Viticulture Practices. So, we’re using local sustainably-grown grapes that local people are employed to pick. We also sell local cheeses in our winery, so tasting room guests are being served local wine and cheeses by local people.

And we’re a really strong community here. It’s all about helping each other out – it’s a web and we’re all interconnected.  Whether it’s a piece of equipment that’s died or we’re working extremely late at night during harvest, we’re all working together and that’s really what sustainability is – being an integral part of that community.

FS: You mentioned that organic wines are hard to come by, especially for the Finger Lakes Region. Why is that?

IMG_2220AD: First, the term organic is difficult to define. Plus, there’s a lot of disease pressure, climactic challenges and insect threats, all of which mean we have to do a lot of spraying early in the season. Everybody in the Finger Lakes has a spray program.

We don’t use a lot – we actually use the most minimal amount that we have to, but if we don’t spray, we won’t have a crop. Even if we are using the most traditional, natural practices. I tell people that we make traditional wines in a modern world. We make wine by hand for human consumption and we use minimal intervention.

FS: What’s the one question a production-conscious consumer should ask of the wine they drink?

AD: That’s a tough question. There are these fads and these moments where a lot of people suddenly want to know “Is it organic?” or “Is it natural?” but they may not even fully understand what it is that they’re really asking. They should ask about the region where everything came from. For instance, if the winery is importing, they’re not supporting sustainable practices. But that said, they may be forced to import that specific variety of grape to make a specific wine. So, it’s just about education. A good question is, “How much of it is done on premise and by the people who are serving the wine?” For our region, the “local” issue is far more relevant than “organic.”

FS: Anything else you want to mention?

AD: We’re starting to toy with wild yeast, and we’re allowing the wine to ferment on its own. It’s a new practice that isn’t being done much in the Finger Lakes – so keep an eye out!

Interested in learning more about the Hector Wine Co. and the stunning Finger Lakes Region? Click here!

Brooklyn Beta: One Year Later

Brooklyn Beta - Invisible Dog Crowd
(Photo by Simon Collison)

Exactly one year after Farmstand went live in the Apple App Store, we celebrated by returning to Brooklyn Beta – the most amazing conference ever and how Farmstand got started. The event began with traditional fare for the 300 attendees – a MailChimp kickoff party, cozy space at The Invisible Dog, great food and snacks, inspiring speakers, a beer elevator, and all kinds of fun throughout the day. They even added some new items like patches they would sew onto your gear and yearbooks (yes, proper school-like yearbooks) with photos of everyone.

Brooklyn Beta - Greenhouse Crowd
(Photo by Simon Collison)

The organizers threw in a twist this year. On Friday, the Main Event happened, and around 1,300 people met at Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It’s a massive and gorgeous building used for events these days. They did a terrific job bringing the energy of the small space to the larger group. They even did Whiskey Friday for 1,300.

A few of my favorite talks included:

  • Former nuclear submarine commander David Marquet on leadership
  • Jonathan Hoeffler on what web fonts should really be
  • Clare Sutcliffe on Code Club and how they’re teaching children to code
  • Katherine Pope of Defy Ventures providing people with criminal histories the tools to become entrepreneurs
  • Tim O’Reilly on the crazy stuff he’s done for the web
  • Raul Gutierrez on Tinybop and their success of their first app

It was such a pleasure to again take part in such an awesome meeting of the minds and we’re already looking forward to 2014!

A Spooky Farmers’ Market Truth

Happy Halloween Farmstand friends!

In honor of this spooky celebration, we thought we’d take a moment to highlight an eerie reality for many farmers’ markets: More than half of all market administrators are volunteers!  At first glance, this is a wonderful thing – it means that markets everywhere are being run by individuals who are so passionate about what they do that financial compensation isn’t an issue.

Farmstand_volunteer

But if we dig a bit deeper, we have to acknowledge that volunteer resources for such a critical position often aren’t sustainable.  (This is why executive directors for nonprofit organizations are typically salaried.)  So while the goal of most farmers’ markets is not to turn big bucks, they should be organized to net enough – either through vendor payments, grants or sponsorships – to financially reward their administrator appropriately. Consider the following, taken from Farmers’ Market Coalition

“While most markets are limited by shoestring budgets, keep in mind that paid managers can greatly increase the likelihood of a market’s long-term success.”

So, think you have a great volunteer administrator now? Just imagine what they could do if they were actually being compensated for their blood, sweat and tears!